Remember the saying “as American as baseball and apple pie?” Only one of those subjects allows you to yell at strangers and drink in public. With that easy decision made, I ate my way through Joe Martin Stadium June 3, opening night of the Bellingham Bells’ summer season.
Once settled in our fancy Boundary Bay Diamond Club seats, a server came to take our orders — the service was included with the ticket. A Hempler’s jalapeño andouille sausage ($7.50), a bag of Deep River Maui Onion chips, and a can of Fielder’s Choice ($6) — a Boundary Bay beer brewed specially for the Bells — were all easy choices for me.
Hempler’s — a company based in Ferndale with a focus on sustainably sourced meat products — never disappoints. At this game, I had the aforementioned jalapeño andouille, spicy and loaded with jalapeño and cheese, snuck a few bites of their classic dog ($5), and had a few more from a double-smoked. The hot dog was probably one of the best I’ve tried. Whether that’s owing to the quality of the hot dog or the skill of the grill master is up for debate, but either way, it was excellent.
The rest of the menu struck out, but before I get to that, I feel I need to touch more on the hot dogs. A great writeup at MLB.com, written by Chris Landers, provides a deep dive into the origins of the stadium dog. The exact date the sausage turned into a hot dog, served in a long roll, is unresolved. Charles Feltman and Anton Feuchtwanger are frontrunners in the lore of the first hot dog, but we know for certain who brought the most iconic snacks to baseball — an English immigrant named Harry Stevens. Hawking hot dogs and peanuts, Stevens stepped into the annals of snack food history.
In doing so, Stevens found himself wealthy and successful, a shining example of that most quintessential American dream. My baseball love story started very differently. Growing up, the most common sport on our TV was soccer. My first baseball game didn’t happen until 2022, with an invite from the Cascadia Daily newsroom to come along to a Bells game, a promo event put on to drum up some publicity for the then-fledgling paper. (Note: The staff will be back in the stands Sunday, July 16, for CDN Day at the stadium.) Like Stevens, I was hooked.
Recalling the exact moment it clicked for me is hard (blame the beers), but I soon found myself swept along in the rush and swell as the game progressed. The realization that baseball is as much a social event as it is a sporting event cast it in my mind as the noblest of games — an opportunity to drink heavily, complain to those around you at bad calls and smirk self-assuredly at the good ones, all while gobbling up highly processed and often fluorescent food.
However, when compared to the fantastic hot dogs, the other options left me wildly disappointed. The cheeseburger ($8) was anemic, unable to even melt the slice of cheese it came with. This was all contained within a very nice but untoasted Avenue Bread bun, and served plain.
I understand that with masses of drunk people swarming the concession stand at the end of every inning, there’s little time for customization. Limited toppings were available for self-service, but they should be just that — toppings, accessories to the flavor of well-cooked meat topped with cheese. As presented, there were none. A couple shakes of a simple spice rub while being grilled could have helped immensely.
Holding out hope, I tried the Beyond Burger and immediately remembered why this Lovecraftian amalgamation of vegetable protein fell to the wayside when Impossible got up and running. Barely cooked and without any toppings, the off-putting flavor of pea protein permeated. Do yourself a favor and pass on both of these.
On the cheesy side, I saw some improvement. Slices of Little Caesars pizza are available, but at $5 a pop, it might be worth it to grit your teeth and pick up a whole pizza from them when the game finishes. It is, at its core, a Little Caesars pizza. If you don’t know what that’s like, you either grew up rich or vegan.
The nachos ($4) restored my faith in the concessions. An incredibly generous — perhaps too generous — serving of nacho cheese sauce adorned a mass of tortilla chip rounds. With that barely-registered flavor of sodium phosphate, this one was a home run, given a beverage on the side to keep the heartburn down.
Finishing off with some sweets, I ordered a bag of kettle corn ($6.50) and a stack of It’s-It ice cream sandwiches ($4). To my horror, I was handed a bag of mass-produced kettle corn, like something you’d buy at a gas station. No offense to Casey’s (of Sequim) — the kettle corn was good, but going with a fairly distant supplier when there are numerous options based in Bellingham seems an odd choice. The It’s-It, a product of San Francisco, get a pass only because they’re really good.
Don’t let the strike-out burgers and away-team kettle corn fool you. A game at Joe Martin Stadium is a truly superb way to spend a summer evening in the sun. Going in with realistic expectations is a must. This is, after all, a ridiculously cheap way to watch summer collegiate baseball. The hot dogs are excellent, the local beers are delicious and the domestics are cheap. If you steer clear of the burgers, the most disappointing thing that will happen at a Bells game is forgetting your mitt at home.
The Bellingham Bells’ season runs through Aug. 3 at Joe Martin Stadium, 1220 Civic Field Way, Bellingham. Info: bellinghambells.com.